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NBA Power Rankings Week 4: Clippers climb into top spot

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These power rankings are not a projection of the future, they are a snapshot of what is happening right now — and right now, no team is playing better than the Clippers, which is why they take over the top spot. Can they sustain this play and stay healthy are questions for another day.

 
Clippers small icon 1. Clippers (9-1, Last Week No. 2). On a six-game win streak as they continue to be carried by the best defense in the NBA and an offense that has found its groove the past week. What are they doing right on D? Smothering the pick-and-roll ball handler, who are shooting just 31.4 percent against L.A (via Synergy Sports). Also they are closing out and contesting on spot up shooters very well. Fun game against the Bulls Saturday.

 
Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (8-1, LW 1). Cleveland keeps on winning and their offense keeps on firing away, but the team has a lot of games where a strong half of defense is all they produce (and against everyone but Atlanta that was enough). You can see the lack of commitment sometimes in their pick-and-roll coverage, which has been spotty this season (at best). Look for a better effort Tuesday night when Toronto comes to town, that should snap them out of their slumber.

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (8-2, LW 4). About Stephen Curry getting fewer threes this season: Through 10 games Curry has hit 48 three pointers, which puts him on pace for 394 threes this season (he had 402 in 79 games last season). He’s very close to his old pace. Not surprisingly, with Curry hitting threes the Warriors now have the best offense (statistically) in the NBA. Four games on the road this week, including at Toronto and Boston, tough places to play.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (7-2, LW 6). They picked up quality wins on the road last week at Oklahoma City and Charlotte. DeMar DeRozan now has eight 30+ point games this season and he’s doing it hitting midrange jumpers off the dribble at a high rate (that may not be sustainable, but so far he just keeps draining them). Rough week ahead with Cavaliers and Warriors are on the schedule.

 
Hawks small icon 5. Hawks (7-2 LW 7). They handed Cleveland its lone loss this season thanks to a stifling defense (second in the NBA), holding the Cavs to less than 40 percent shooting. The other thing the Hawks have going for them this season is fantastic bench play so far this season, statistically the best in the NBA. Best test on the schedule this week is at Charlotte.

 
Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (7-3, LW 3). Already three losses at home this season, after having just one all of last season. Part of that may be due to Tony Parker missing time with a sore knee — he’s not the dynamic player he once was, but he’s still a strong floor general that gets San Antonio into good actions. He’s working his way back into the rotation. Kawhi Leonard continues to be an absolute beast this season.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (7-4, LW 10). That they went 3-1 on the road without George Hill speaks to how much better this team plays with Gordon Hayward on the floor. That poor first week defensively seems a long time ago as the Jazz are locking teams down and now have the fourth-best defense in the NBA. Fun clash of styles game this Saturday when Utah travels to Houston — how does their defense deal with James Harden?

 
Hornets small icon 8. Hornets (6-3, LW 8). Tough losses to Toronto and Cleveland this week shouldn’t put a cloud over how well Charlotte has started the season. The most interesting thing is they are fourth in the NBA in percentage of shots with an assist, there with the Warriors, Celtics, Rockets, and other teams moving the ball around. Kemba Walker has played brilliantly and is carrying the Charlotte offense (he had 40 against Toronto but it was not enough).

 
Bulls small icon 9. Bulls (6-4, LW 15). The Bulls offense is coming back to earth, despite a couple monster games (39 and 37 point nights) from Jimmy Butler last week. The hot three point shooting of earlier in the season was not going to last — in the last five games the Bulls have shot 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. That makes them defendable. Tough road swing out West this week with the Trail Blazers, Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (7-4, LW 11). Damian Lillard’s play this season has been fantastic, and it’s helped carry the Blazers through the end of tight games (all but one of their wins have been relatively close games). This is a team still getting outscored by their opponents on the season, but that is skewed by the fact they’ve had three games against the Clippers/Warriors and gotten thumped. Still, the defense is bottom 10 and that will hurt them if it doesn’t improve.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (6-4, LW 5). They have lost three in a row and the reason isn’t Russell Westbrook (who had another triple-double Sunday), it is their defense that has stumbled. The Thunder were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA to start the season but have been torched during this losing streak (including by a not-great Orlando team on Sunday). Bet the over when Westbrook and the Thunder take on Harden and the Rockets Wednesday.

 
Celtics small icon 12. Celtics (5-4, LW 14). Still no Al Horford (concussion) or Jae Crowder (ankle) but give them credit for picking up wins over the weekend against struggling teams in the Knicks and Pacers. Horford should return this week, and they could use him when they face Golden State and Detroit, that said the Celtics enter a soft part of the schedule and should be able to put together some wins, if the defense starts to come around.

 
Lakers small icon 13. Lakers (6-5, LW 12). The Lakers are getting little out of their big off-season signings — Timofey Mozgov has been passable, but Luol Deng’s picture could show up on a milk carton soon. The biggest surprises with the Lakers this season go: 1) Nick Young playing defense; 2) Julius Randle’s all-around improvement; 3) the bench being one of the better ones in the league, scoring more than 50 points a game, and when the starters are out the Lakers have outscored opponents by 7 points per 100 possessions.

 
Bucks small icon 14. Bucks (5-4, LW 13). Both the Pelicans and Mavericks got their first wins of the season against the Bucks last week, not a great sign. They are getting enough offense out of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo (especially at home), but it’s not a balanced attack. The Bucks have struggled on the road and are out there again this week against the Hawks and Heat, then they get the Warriors at home.

 
Rockets small icon 15. Rockets (5-4, LW 16). Patrick Beverley should return this week, providing more shooting, defense, and depth in the back court. They need it — when James Harden sits this team’s offense drops by 30 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets split a home-and-home last week with the Spurs, which they will take. More good tests with Oklahoma City, Portland, and Utah on the schedule this week

 
Pistons small icon 16. Pistons (5-5, LW 9). They went 1-3 on the road last week, including a loss in Phoenix, but they were able to pound a big Denver team inside, which is a promising sign. The Pistons continue to struggle with consistency on offense, but that’s to be expected with Reggie Jackson out injured, he is at the heart of what they do on that end. Tough schedule ahead this week with the Thunder, cavaliers, and Celtics.

 
Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (4-5, LW 19). They have the point differential of a 3-6 team (according to basketball-reference.com), but this is a team that knows how to grind out close wins. The Grizzlies’ offense still needs spacing, it gets 19.3 percent of its shots on spot ups but his hitting an eFG% of 48% on those, not high enough. On contested catch-and-shoots they are hitting just 27.7%.

 
timberwolves small icon 18. Timberwolves (3-6, LW 23). The opposite of Memphis, Minnesota has the point differential of a 5-4 team. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 54.8 percent from three but what was most impressive Sunday against the Lakers was the way he attacked the rim. Rookie Kris Dunn’s up-and-down play in a big role shows why Tom Thibodeau might night be that eager to move Ricky Rubio once the Spanish point guard gets healthy.

 
Nets small icon 19. Nets (4-5, LW 24). That this team is pushing .500 with this roster (and Jeremy Lin still out) is a credit to what coach Kenny Atkinson is doing. Granted, the Nets have yet to beat a team over .500, but they are beating teams closer to their level, which is more than was expected. Tough week ahead with the Clippers, Lakers, and Thunder all on the road, then the Trail Blazers at home.

 
Pacers small icon 20. Pacers (4-5, LW 18). Think they don’t miss Frank Vogel and George Hill? The Pacers have the third worst defense in the NBA this season. The Pacers split a home-and-home with Philly and both games went to overtime — they were evenly matched. Not a good sign. On offense, the Pacers need Paul George back (he was out Sunday) and to get Myles Turner more touches.

 
Kings small icon 21. Kings (4-5, LW 22). Mike Malone had the Kings playing deliberately (and winning, until DeMarcus Cousins got sick), then the owner wanted to run, and they got George Karl. Now Dave Joerger has them playing slowly again, but that only works well for a good defensive team, and the Kings are 25th in the NBA on that front. Cousins trade rumors are swirling around the league, how the players (including Cousins himself) handles that will have a lot to do with if they can start to get wins.

 
Magic small icon 22. Magic (4-6 LW 21). Their record is better than they are actually playing, they have the point differential of a 2-8 team, and they still have the second worst defense in the NBA (which has to be gnawing at Frank Vogel). If the Serge Ibaka that showed up against the Thunder can show up every night that would help. Winnable games this week (Pacers, Pelicans, Mavericks) and they kind of games they need to win if they fancy themselves a playoff team.

 
Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (2-6, LW 27). Dallas picks up a couple of wins with Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams sidelined, in part because Harrison Barnes continues to earn that massive paycheck with great play. Nowitzki is expected to return this week (possibly Monday) and how Barnes adjusts his game to fit with the future Hall of Famer will determine if Dallas can get enough offense to get wins (their defense has been okay).

 
Nuggets small icon 24. Nuggets (3-7, LW 17). They have lost four in a row and most of the games haven’t been close. Mike Malone is still searching for the big man rotations that work for him (he has ended the Nikola Jokic/Jusuf Nurkic starting combination). Rookie Jamal Murray is starting to put up some points outside the paint for Denver (19 points Sunday. Denver is at home but will be challenged by the Raptors, and Jazz this week.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (3-6 LW 25). All the talk about how much triangle offense they are running, if they are running it right, and how happy (or not) people are about it is moot — if they can’t get stops they will lose. And the Knicks still have the worst defense in the Association. Part of the problem is the Knicks foul a lot, and that’s not just on Tony Brothers.

 
Heat small icon 26. Heat (2-6, LW 20). They have lost four in a row, their offense is struggling, and now Goran Dragic will be out for a while with an ankle injury. Dion Waiters has some NBA skills, but he’s no point guard and now he’s forced to play it some in Miami. Things don’t get easier with the Spurs and Hawks on the schedule this week.

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (3-8, LW 26). While Devin Booker is scoring 20.2 points per game (second on the team) he is shooting just 27.5 percent from three (he shot 34.3 percent last season). Phoenix gave up 17 straight points during a loss to Brooklyn on Saturday, then played better Sunday but were no match for Golden State. They are playing teams close but struggle to finish. The are on the road this week in Denver, Indiana, and Philly.

 
Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (2-7, LW 28). They picked up a nice win against Boston, but then lost two over the weekend (Chicago and Cleveland) as Bradley Beal missed the games with a sore hamstring. Marcin Gortat created a controversy saying the Wizards’ bench was one of the league’s the worst — but he was right. Statistically they are the third worst bench in the NBA this season. It’s just one of many problems for this team.

 
Pelicans small icon 29. Pelicans (1-9, LW 29). It’s great to see Jrue Holiday set to return this week — not because the Pelicans need him (although they do) but because it means his wife and baby are healthy enough for him to get back into the grind of the NBA. Holiday’s playmaking should help improve a bottom-five offense, but have the Pelicans dug too deep a hole already to make the playoffs this season in the West?

 
Sixers small icon 30. 76ers (1-8, LW 30). They pushed Indiana to overtime in two games and picked up their first win of the season. That’s the good news. Brett Brown can’t wait to get the minutes restriction off (or at least increased) on Joel Embiid — you could see how much they need him when Brown brought him back in overtime anyway to get the win last week. He’s the focal point of their offense and their defense is vastly better with him on the court.

Report: Pacers interview former Thunder coach Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder vs. Pacers
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The Pacers were reportedly expected to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

But if set on the former Rockets coach, Indiana isn’t acting like it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan interviewed for the Pacers last week, sources said. The Pacers are expected to interview a pool of around 12 candidates, trim the candidates approximately in half, and conduct in-person interviews.

Donovan joins a list of known candidates that’s already way longer than 12:

  • Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
  • Former Kings and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger
  • Former Pistons and Nuggets star Chauncey Billups
  • Warriors assistant and former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown
  • Nets assistant and former Magic coach Jacque Vaughn
  • Spurs assistant Becky Hammon
  • Spurs assistant Will Hardy
  • Heat assistant Dan Craig
  • Heat assistant Chris Quinn
  • Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley
  • Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas
  • Bucks assistant Darvin Ham
  • Bucks assistant Charles Lee
  • Magic assistant Pat Delany
  • Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool
  • 76ers assistant Ime Udoka
  • Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts

Leaving the potentially rebuilding Thunder, Donovan clearly expected to land on his feet. The Pacers are equipped to win now, but maybe only moderately.

Donovan has shown impressive adaptability to his roster. That’d come in handy if Indiana is set on continuing the talented but challenging Domantas SabonisMyles Turner pairing.

Report: Clippers teammates rolled eyes at Paul George’s postseason calls for togetherness

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Paul George and Montrezl Harrell reportedly had a heated exchange on the bench during the Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets.

Apparently, that wasn’t an isolated incident.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Paul George had a disappointing series against Denver, and had several moments that left him in compromising positions with his teammates — beyond just his production. Multiple teammates had verbal spats with George throughout the postseason, citing in their exchanges a lack of accountability from him.

In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make.

George wanted more time with his teammates. They already had enough of him.

This had been a simmering problem – George and Kawhi Leonard getting preferential treatment, their teammates resenting it. Harrell sounded particularly bothered by the dynamic.

Losing exacerbates issues like that, and getting upset by Denver was a big loss. Both George and Harrell faced oncourt and offcourt stressors – only further contributing to squabbling.

Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Clippers should try to keep him. He’s a good player, and they wouldn’t gain much cap flexibility without him.

But the 26-year-old might also want to explore the market and secure the most lucrative deal. It’d be reasonable for him to resent a teammate pressing him just to take the Clippers’ offer – especially if Harrell felt George wasn’t as committed to the team in the first place.

George and Leonard have earned preferential treatment. Leonard in particular has shown he benefits from load management.

However, that can annoy teammates. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan. It just means that downside should be accounted for.

It’d be nice if Leonard were more vocal or George rubbed fewer people the wrong way. But their basketball talent means dealing with their shortcomings. It’d be nice if George’s eye-rolling teammates realized that, too.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers bears responsibility for managing this tension. A this best, he connects well with players and gets everyone pulling for the same goal. That’s his job as the Clippers try to make the next step.

Miami’s Meyers Leonard adjusting to going from starter to out of rotation

Meyers Leonard
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Meyers Leonard was bent forward at the waist, standing a few feet away from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra on the Heat sideline, screaming with every bit of the volume that his deep and booming voice can generate.

This is his role right now for the Heat.

His only role.

Leonard is in a tough spot these days; a full-time starter during the regular season, he is now out of the rotation as the Miami Heat have made their run to the Eastern Conference finals. It is a bitter pill for him to swallow — yet to his credit, he hasn’t acted the least bit bitter about his current reality.

“My team knows this, and our coaching staff knows this,” Leonard told The Associated Press. “I would do anything to be out there. And I’d be lying if I said that I’m not competitive as hell. I wish I was impacting the game on the floor. I’m not, but as a person and as a player, I want what’s best for everybody.”

So for now, the 7-foot, 260-pound, chiseled center is the tallest, strongest and best-paid assistant coach in these playoffs. He calls out what he’s seeing on every possession, pulls aside teammates for quick one-on-one chats when necessary, and on off days he’s getting his on-court work in just in case he’s needed to play.

Leonard has started 49 of his 51 appearances with the Heat this season, more starts than he made in his seven seasons with Portland combined. But in the playoffs, he’s logged a total of nine minutes, all in one appearance.

“Meyers is one of the most special people I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and to be around,” Spoelstra said. “He is just an incredible human being and teammate. He has all our hearts. We will do anything for him because he is so pure.”

Leonard, more than anything else, got unlucky at the worst possible time.

He badly sprained his left ankle in early February and wasn’t anywhere near being ready to return to the lineup when the NBA season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. And then when team facilities shut down as a precaution, Leonard’s rehab process had to be amended as well.

That was the first issue. The second was Miami became a different team a few days after he got hurt, pulling off a trade to bring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat. Crowder has become a starter, and Spoelstra told Leonard before Miami resumed play in the NBA’s restart bubble that he was taking the rotation in a different direction.

It was tough on Leonard mentally. He was struggling when he got to the bubble because of his ankle, then spent days wrestling about whether he should stand for the national anthem or kneel with his teammates, and on top of all that he essentially lost his job as well.

“There’s just two things that I won’t ever let be questioned and that’s character and work ethic,” Leonard said. “Every day when I walk through the door, I’m going to be a great guy, a great teammate. It’s not fake. So I’m trying to make my impact now from the sideline.”

There are a few starters who aren’t in the same roles that they were for the four teams remaining in this NBA season. Avery Bradley opted out of joining the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. Will Barton — who led Denver in minutes per game this season — has a knee injury and has missed the Nuggets’ entire postseason run. Gordon Hayward has missed much of Boston’s playoff stint while recovering from a sprained ankle. Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn, a starter all season, is in Miami’s second unit now.

Leonard saw the Heat change, and his role change with it. He didn’t sulk, lash out or complain.

“It’s not easy, being in this kind of situation, going through the injury he went through and having the hiatus where he didn’t get the full opportunity to rehab it,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s making the most of it, and if he gets his opportunity, he will be ready.”

Leonard also sees the reason why he should be helping the Heat however he can right now. He’s never been this close to an NBA championship; the Heat lead the Celtics 2-1 in the East finals, with Game 4 on Wednesday night.

He’ll be ready to scream some more then, too.

“I am, in the best way possible, the most jealous of watching our team’s success,” Leonard said. “I literally said this to my wife the other night. I said, ‘Elle, we are six wins away from a ring.’ That is so damn special.”

Anthony Davis yelled “Kobe” after he sank game winner

Anthony Davis Kobe
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The Lakers played in the Kobe-designed Black Mamba jerseys on Sunday night, when Anthony Davis did about the most Kobe thing possible — he drained a buzzer-beater game-winner.

When Davis did it, he yelled “Kobe.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have talked a lot this season about honoring the legacy of Kobe with their play and effort this season, and coach Frank Vogel did after this game.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “AD flying to the wing like that, catch and shoot with the game on the line, the biggest moment of the season, nothing but net? That’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers are now 3-0 in those black Mamba jerseys these playoffs. Expect to see them again.